Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 3, Part 1

estrogen molecule

Estrogen Molecule, wonderful and not-so-wonderful, depending on the day

The first half of Chapter 3 of Stasi Eldredge’s Becoming Myself, “The Landscape of our Lives,” has been my favorite section of the book so far. It talks about hormones. Thank God. Somebody, please talk openly and honestly about hormones!

I’ve heard other women say that PMS and other hormonal fluctuations resulting in erratic emotions are a myth. And my reaction to this has always been an adrenal rush of, ahem, hormones, and a sharp, “Excuse me?” I’m happy for those women who, by some miracle, managed to escape the monthly roller coaster. I am not one of them.

I married an even-tempered man who comes from a (mostly) even-tempered family. This has made about four days out of every month sheer hell for both of us. As the years progressed and his frustration increased, the arguments started out with, “You were fine a minute ago. What did I say?” but soon became “What’s wrong with you?” which became “You’re crazy. You need medication.”

So reading Stasi’s few pages about hormonal cycles was a breath of fresh air, to quote the cliché, but that’s exactly what it felt like. Reading these pages allowed me to take a deep breath of relief. I’d always understood that I had extreme hormonal swings, and this chapter backed me up, provided valuable arguments in my favor.

It’s not okay that I fly off the handle and say cruel things to my husband during these times. It’s not okay that I want to lose my temper at people in line at the grocery store. It’s not okay that I hate myself and repeat the lies that my Enemy wants me to believe about myself.

It is okay that I tell my loved ones, “I need to be alone today.” It is okay that I don’t feel like smiling and go to a friend’s house for dinner. And it’s okay that I take a nap instead of press on with the next chapter of my novel. I don’t have to feel guilty. I refuse to believe that I’m lazy or worthless, a mooch who contributes nothing to the finances because she can’t get a book deal, a good-for-nothing woman who can’t control her emotional outbursts and is fit only for a mental institution. How Victorian is that? What century do we live in anyway?

After reading this chapter, I told my husband, “You’re not allowed to call me crazy anymore. I’m not allowed to call myself crazy either. I’m not crazy, I’m just in my third week. Go find something to do that doesn’t involve me. I’m curling up with a cheesy romance movie and a cuppa coffee.”

Favorite Quotes from Chapter 3, part 1:

“There is an internal reality playing havoc with my world, but it is neither woundedness, nor sin, nor immaturity—not even a touch of insanity. There are powerful feminine tides washing to and fro inside each of us, and they are having an enormous influence on our lives—and on the way we perceive our lives.”

(Becoming Myself, 46)

But who wants to be a slave to these tides? Not I. From whence cometh my help? A pill? No thanks. This is the time to:

“…lean into God. Press in. The difficult days of each month can become a respite of hiding our hearts in our God, who always understands us and loves us endlessly. There is grace here. There is mercy here.”

(Becoming Myself, 52)

There had better be understanding, grace, and mercy! God created the female as his final act of creation, didn’t he? That means all the hormones included. Of course he understands, and he finds me utterly beautiful.

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 2

This is a long one, so bear with me. As Stasi Eldredge stated in Chapter 1 of Becoming Myself (discussed HERE), we are all of us, in some part of our lives, a “glorious mess.” Some of us are complete wrecks. A far cry from who we are meant to be. At least it may feel that way much of the time.

Chapter 2 is entitled “Looking Back With Mercy.” We are encouraged to remember the painful parts of our pasts, honestly, prayerfully, seeking healing and God’s perspective on our histories. And we who know him know that he often sees things quite differently than we do.

How did we get from there to here? Is “here” a good place to be? Which memories still hurt me? Am I here because of sins and bad choices I’ve committed? Am I here because of bad things others have done to me? It’s usually an intertwined mess of both, scarring us deeply on the inside and causing us, often unconsciously, to behave in ways that we wouldn’t if we hadn’t been hurt. Too often we act, speak, and believe, out of our brokenness.

I will share one life circumstance and two encounters that helped shape my personality and my reactions to others.

1. OIL FIELD CHILD

My dad works in the oil field. This meant moving every couple of years. When I was of pre-school age, we moved to East Texas, where I met Tara. She was my next door neighbor and the best friend I could ever imagine having. She was, in Anne Shirley’s language, my bosom friend. After a couple years, it was time for us to move again. My first—and, I think, deepest—heartbreak during childhood was being torn from Tara. No matter which schools I went to afterward, no matter which little girls lived next door to us, I didn’t make lasting friendships. I don’t remember the names of the kids I played with, and more often than not, I played with my sister’s friends, though I don’t remember their names either. They meant nothing to me. I was determined that they wouldn’t. I just wanted Tara. We visited her only once after we moved away, but it wasn’t the same. Something had been irreplaceably lost. Time and distance ruined everything.

The result? I still have issues trusting friendships. Either they will move or I will move. Friendships don’t last. Why should I put my heart and soul into nurturing a friendship if parting is inevitable? There’s less pain in being a loner.

2. THE FIRST GRADE TEACHER

teacher at deskI was always naturally and devastatingly shy. Easily embarrassed to the point of humiliation. Up until Ms. Maxey, I had enjoyed wonderful, fun, affection women as teachers. I had no reason to believe that my first grade teacher would be any different. Now, I can’t remember all the circumstances, only that Ms. Maxey gave us a new assignment, and we were to drag out some workbook or other. I remember looking at her, smiling, and rolling my eyes. Like “here we go again,” which means the assignment was probably math-related. I meant this exchange to be a sort of secret communication between just her and I, like camaraderie, something cute and endearing, because I thought she liked me.

She pounced. She yelled, sharing my great sin with everyone in class, who of course, turned to stare at the transgressor. Then, oh, yes, she sent me to the principal’s office. For rolling my eyes. At first, I thought she couldn’t be serious. I didn’t get sent the office. I was a good girl. I never broke rules or spoke out of turn. I must’ve pled for her to not mean it because she was insistent. I don’t remember walking the hall. I don’t remember what the principal said to me. I don’t remember waiting for my mother to arrive. I just remember sitting in the oversized chair, sobbing hysterically.

The result? The encounter, I believe, was supposed to teach me respect. It only taught me to fear. It destroyed a confident part in me that was willing to reach out to others. I still can’t look people in the eye for fear of detecting disapproval. It’s safer to keep my head down, be invisible, never attract attention.

3. THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER

Until recently, this memory would still recur at the oddest times to sting me. But I’ll express that more deeply. The “stings” were debilitating, resulting in paralyzing self-doubt and fear of risk. The encounter occurred during the same move, same town, same impressionable years as Ms. Maxey, and to spell it out might make it sound petty, but it obviously had a huge toll on my psyche.

Our assignment, while the adults were in “big church,” was to color a sheet of cute little animals. There were six, more-or-less realistic depictions of different types of animals lined up on this page. I rejoiced! I loved coloring. I was rarely without a crayon in my hand. I still have the callous on my middle left finger that resulted from the hours I spent with crayons, and later, colored pencils. I was confident in my skills. I could stay inside the lines; I pressed hard, so that the colors were rich and deep, whereas most kids ended up with faded pastel colors smeared haphazardly all over the page. So I dived into the assignment.

It’s very likely that the man in charge of this assignment was giving us specific instructions about what colors to use where (a red flag in itself), but in my enthusiasm I blotted out the drone of his voice, if in fact this was the case. In the bottom left-hand corner of the page was a squirrel sitting on his haunches and nibbling on what was probably an acorn. I colored the squirrel brown, because all children know that that squirrels are brown and only brown. Then I distinctly remember thinking, “If I paint the acorn brown too, you won’t be able to see it. It will be all brown and that’s boring.” I reached for the turquoise crayon. My mom liked turquoise jewelry, so I had learned to appreciate the beauty in a turquoise gemstone. I colored this acorn turquoise.

Then it came my turn to have my sheet graded. Question: Who grades colorings in Sunday School? But for whatever reason, our colorings were graded at this particular church. The man came to my squirrel and with the tip of his pen pointed at the little spot of turquoise in my squirrel’s grasp. “What’s that?” he asked. “It’s a blue rock,” I replied, so proud of my creative genius and my color-coordinating skills. “No,” he said, and with that pen put a big red checkmark near my squirrel. Just “no”? If he said anything else, I was too devastated to hear him.

The result? Never think outside of the box. Color by number. Color inside the lines. Follow directions without an ounce of independent thinking. Creativity is okay, as long as it’s cliché. Clichés don’t rock the boat. Paint your tree trunks brown and your water blue, at all cost, even though, in reality, tree trunks are usually gray and water only reflects the colors around it, whether it’s blue or green or red or striped, but don’t realize this, just do what I expect you to do.

THE HEALING

Oil Field Child — About four years ago, God called me out of my loner comfort zone. I knew I needed to grow in my people skills, my social interactions. It’s healthy to be with people. God wanted to heal me, and I had to take a huge step of faith. It hurt. I was terrified. Three years later: I have friends. Imagine that! Women I can call on when things go wrong. People who I ask to pray for me and my family. People I love to laugh with and serve with and share life’s pain and life’s victories. I take the risk of being open with them, of caring about them. They still move away. But guess what? I get to go visit them. I get free lodging out of state and adventures in faraway places because I keep in contact with people I love. And thank God for social media. While it has its drawbacks, friends 800 miles away still feel like they’re just down the street. I get to celebrate and cry with them almost in real time. I don’t have to give them up forever.

First Grade Teacher – The incident must’ve disturbed my mother as much as it did me. She didn’t deal out the promised, “If ever you’re sent to the office, you’ll get a spanking at home.” And sometime later she made sure to tell me, “Ms. Maxey’s mother had just died.” In my heart, I understood a reason for my teacher’s flying off the handle, but I also understood that this didn’t excuse her. I remained terrified of this woman. I avoided contact with her at all cost. Then God reminded me of a “chance” encounter I had with Ms. Maxey the following year. I had gone on to Mrs. Little’s 2nd Grade class, and Mrs. Little provided redemption in so many ways. But this is about Ms. Maxey. So, there we were, our entire class lined up in the hallway, waiting for recess or lunch or our turn in the bathroom. And I happen to glance up and see Ms. Maxey coming. She’s maneuvering through the lines of kids, and out of all of them, she looks down and smiles at me. Joy rose in my little heart like sunshine. I can remember the gray and red stripes in her polyester blouse, the way her curly hair had fallen flat, and that all her lipstick had worn off. And, now, I wonder if the unfair things she did when her mother died haunted her bit and she came to regret breaking my trust like she did. I think she made a point to smile at me in particular. In apology, in a show of approval. Only God knows. But it’s enough.

Sunday School Teacher – “Look at this man,” God prompted me when I invited him into this memory that held surprising power over me. “Examine him.” So I concentrated on details I could remember. He wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt, unfashionable in the mid-80s except among the farm boys. He had a perfectly bald head except for the strip of hair stretching around from ear to ear. His glasses were nearly bottle-bottom thick. He was as straight and unimaginative as they came. If he was a typical child, and I must assume he was, then he had been creative once, but this natural part of him had been stripped out, likely with a great deal of disappointment and heartbreak. God told me, “Feel sorry for this man, beloved. He’s wasn’t qualified to judge your creativity.” And then came the revelation: “But you are. Where are you dampening the creativity of others? Don’t repeat this cycle. You know how much it hurts.” I realized I had carried that horrible lesson into my interactions with my sister, my friends, my husband, my nieces and nephews. I had become the unimaginative Sunday School teacher. Because I thought he was right.

FAVORITE QUOTES

This post has run way longer than I intended, so I choose two short statements from chapter 2 that resonated with me:

“I do not believe God caused the pain of our lives, but I do know that he uses it to drive us to himself.”

(Becoming Myself, 38)

“God is rewriting my story. My story is his story, really, and one day he will tell it in all of its hidden splendor. I will get to hear his take on my days, his perception of what was going on underneath and behind the scenes. He will share with me the many ways he was working all things together for my good, and it will be marvelous to hear.”

(Becoming Myself, 42)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

“All things,” really means “all things.” Even the painful parts of our past. I find immeasurable hope in that promise.

Verse of Encouragement: Promise of Help

As a child, I was forced to memorize verses, like most kids in Sunday School. Earning cheap gold star stickers didn’t make me more enthusiastic about it. By Monday, I couldn’t remember the verse I’d quoted anyway. So for years I rolled my eyes when anyone would try to convince me of the importance of memorizing scripture. And matching the verse to its address? Forget it. Who besides preachers can remember all those numbers anyway? What was the point unless I, too, was up there sermoning away? Uh, no way.

It wasn’t until I did the study for Breaking Free that I understood the value in this practice. Beth Moore said speaking God’s word is like firing bullets at the bad guy. That’s a bad paraphrase and an extreme summary. She instructed us to memorize our bullets, so we never do life unarmed. She’s from Texas, where I was born into a hunting family, so I speak that language and jive with the comparison. It all clicked. Oh! The verses are tools to be used, not to show off in Sunday School.

Of course, verses aren’t magic spells. There’s a deal of faith involved, owning the promise and believing that God will do what he says he will do. Then resting in that promise, waiting and watching.

There are times when attack comes so suddenly and out of nowhere that it blindsides me for a while. For a few days I will chalk it up to hormones or depression, then I get smart. I had a vulnerable moment, and the Enemy pounced. These feelings, these lies I keep telling myself — that I’m not good enough, that I’m worthless, that God is so disappointed in me, that I should never leave the house again, that I should just lay down and die? They are oppression from the oppressor. They are meant to destroy me. They deserve a bullet. Sometimes fired repeatedly.

My favorite bullet for times of oppression comes from Isaiah. I still don’t know the numbers of its address, so I had to look it up. Turns out it’s Isaiah 41:12-13:

Though you search for your enemies,

you will not find them.

Those who wage war against you

will be as nothing at all.

 

For I am the Lord your God

who takes hold of your right hand

and says to you, Do not fear;

I will help you.

holding child's handI repeat this to myself over and over again, until I’m convinced yet again that it’s true. God comes for me when I’m in trouble. It might take a few days, sometimes it’s within the hour, but the lifting of the oppression is usually sudden and palpable. It’s not a magic spell. It’s believing God and letting him fight for me. It’s about trust and release. And it’s hard to remember to do. I don’t want to quote scripture when all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and sob. I don’t want to own this promise again. I want the oppression to go away for ever! Yet here it is, ruining another day. Just give up. Lay down and die. You are such a disappointment.

NO!

Those who wage war against you will come to nothing. I am God, who fights for you. Don’t be afraid. I am helping you. Get up, keep going, keep breathing. I love you.

Spiteful Thoughts

swear word bubble “Oh, good grief, can you drive any slower? The left lane is for passing, you idiot. Get over!”

“Get off the phone while you’re driving, you moron. You’re going to kill somebody!”

“How can you people not have cilantro??? This is Walmart, for God’s sake. Since when does Walmart not carry cilantro?!”

“Seriously? A huge space for the one thing I need. Who is stocking these shelves? Who mis-ordered the cereal this time?”

“Is it too hard to remember to close the toilet lid? Close the *#!^ shower curtain! Seriously?!”

* * *

My list of spiteful thoughts goes on and on and on. I’m usually not shouting these remarks. Most often they emerge as grumbles under my breath or bitter whines. This doesn’t improve them, because the same spite colors them all.

Jesus brought this to my attention about four weeks ago. At that time, road workers were completing the long, undesirable task of resurfacing several miles of four-lane highway that connects my house to the towns where I do all my shopping and family-visiting and church activities. Just a few more days and those big machines and detours would all be gone, and we who must drive this stretch of road would have a new, bump-free ride to the grocery store. Awesome.

But on that particular Tuesday, my grace for folks was in desperately short supply. I didn’t even have the excuse of being hormonal. I know my cycle, and this didn’t count. Little things added up throughout the day. That complaint above about cilantro? Yeah, it really happened on that Tuesday. I had a recipe that called for cilantro, but I would have to do without, which felt, at the time, like a huge injustice. Petty, right? I paid out of the grocery store and thought, “Ah, the worst is behind me. I’m headed home. I can relax.” I forgot about the road construction, the single line of crawling cars, the big machines swinging terrifyingly close to our tin-can vehicles.

I made it to the stoplight where I turn to finally get home. I have to turn right, but it’s the right turn lane that is blocked off, so I have to do that which is illegal in most instances and turn right from the middle lane. Okay, fine, I can do this. But a huge tar-laying truck pulls up beside me in that right lane. He’s waiting for the light to turn green, too. I’m thinking, “No way. Tell me you’re not going to block all of us from turning.” I pray, “God, help me. Don’t let me lose it here. It’s no big deal. I really need your help here.”

The light turns green, I start to drive around the truck (because the light says go and there’s no guy with a sign waving us to stop or obey the light. Well, that tar guy is way bigger than I am. I hit the break, and he proceeds to fill the entire intersection with his tar-spraying machine. How many green-red lights are we supposed to sit through until someone comes to direct us to go or stay? I’m first in line. I have to make the call for every driver waiting impatiently behind me. Do I go or not? I have no idea what to do.

road rage This was the last straw. Even though I was fervently, desperately praying only seconds before, my top blows. I start cussing and ranting and raving at this guy (from inside my car, of course, where he can’t hear me), and as soon as he backs up enough to let me squeeze through the lanes, I gun it, honk my horn, fishtail it around his front fender, nearly hit the car waiting in the east-bound turn lane, and make a complete idiot of myself.

I relive this incident, posting it forever in a public place, because it shook me up. It deeply disturbed me. And it provided the catalyst for a beautiful life lesson. I think God orchestrated this encounter so I could clearly see something ugly inside myself. He and I talked about this moment over and over during the following week. “What is this thing?” I asked him. “How can I be so violently ugly inside?”

A few days later I happened to be driving somewhere on that same road (now completely resurfaced and no tar trucks in sight), and again I was talking it out with God. His response this time rang quite clear. “Spiteful thoughts,” he said.

I cannot explain the relief I felt as soon as this thing had a name. It was like a light coming on in a dark room. Ever since that moment, I have felt equipped to deal with it, recognize it, give it over to God when this beast starts to surface. Case in point:

I was driving home (note the common trigger here) from the chiropractor’s office last week after having an amazing massage. I was driving five miles under the speed limit (no one behind me, thank goodness. I would’ve sped, I swear!) with a stupid grin on my face because I was so relaxed and tenderized. Before I had driven two measly miles, I encountered a driver who was swerving on the narrow two-lane, no-shoulder road. They were clearly texting or putting on lipstick or or cleaning up a spill or something equally dangerous. And what happens? Under my breath, I say, “You idiot. Put the *#^! phone down. Drive already.”

ZAP goes the gentle lightning bolt right down my middle. Stop and listen! There is it! Rearing up its brutal little head. How easily they start, those spiteful thoughts. How fast they escalate into hateful attitudes, temper tantrums, ruined hours of a perfectly good day. “God, I’m so sorry,” I prayed. “Thank you for showing this to me. Cleanse me of this. How gentle and merciful you are in your lessons. Thank you for loving me enough to grow me and change me into who I am meant to be.” I’m pretty sure I also lifted that other driver in prayer, a prayer for protection over them and whoever they encounter on the road.

If I am to be ever more transformed into the likeness of Christ, well, spiteful thoughts simply won’t do. I am thrilled to be working with God on this. How he loves me. Despite my ugly bits. The beauty is in there, waiting to be uncovered, like a tarnished silver vase.

 

A New Study: Becoming Myself

Last week I embarked on a new study. I’m not really into self-help stuff. They cause me to dive too deeply into my flaws, my mistakes, my ugliness, and usually lead to thoughts of what I’m not doing right, self-loathing, confusion, and often periods of depression. They may provide tips for improving one’s outlook, one’s attitude, one’s prayer life, or whatever–and usually set one up for failure. Long-term solutions rarely really come out of reading these books.

There have been a few, in my experience, that have proven truly beneficial. The first was Breaking Free by Beth Moore. It taught me that breaking free of strongholds and lies we believe about ourselves is often a long hard process. The second was Waking the Dead by John Eldredge that illustrated how every human being is part of an epic story, that we are continually under siege and the prize at stake is our heart.

Neither of these books/studies is typical self-help. Self-help is not their purpose. Seeking God’s help is the point they make. I have tried to fix myself on my own, and invariably I fail.

book coverI expect Stasi Eldredge’s Becoming Myself to have that same theme. I need that theme. My husband knows I struggle with self-image, esteem, certain issues that crop up and ruin a perfectly happy day. So out of love, he bought me Stasi’s most recent book and the DVD sessions. I wanted the 8-session study guide also and ordered it to help me dig deep and record my feelings, thoughts, reactions, progress.

So last Tuesday, we started. I saw “we” because my husband decided to watch the sessions and do the discussion time with me, even though the study is geared toward women. He wants to know me, he wants to be a part of my healing process. I find that so precious and extremely romantic.

I’ve watched Stasi talk before, and always she was sitting down next to John, but in the sessions for Becoming Myself, she is standing up, moving around, with camera shots showing her head to foot. Anyone who has read anything by Stasi, they know that she has struggled with eating addictions and self-loathing over her physical appearance. So I was proud to see her standing up in front of the camera and showing her lovely self to her viewers.

Then came the week of answering questions in the study guide and reading Chapter 1 of the book. I thought, replace “food addiction” with “anger and self-control” and I could’ve written this opening chapter. Stasi pinpoints my insecurities, my frustrations, my feelings about my failures so perfectly, that my jaw kept dropping. “That’s me!” I kept thinking. So I guess it’s worth exploring the rest of the book.

My favorite quote from Chapter 1 is this:

God has a thing for human beings. Though you look around the planet, this does at times seem hard to believe, it remains true. We are loved. Born out of love, into love, to know love, and to be loved. Yes, we were born into a fallen, sorry world, which is at the same time more lovely than a fairytale. It is both. And in this beautiful, heartbreaking world, God—the eternal, omniscient, amazing One—loves human beings. Including you. Especially you.

You are amazing.

Well, okay, maybe not every day. Every day the wonder of you is amazing, but many days the wonder of you is buried beneath the rubble of a world gone mad. You were born into a glorious mess, and we all have become something of a glorious mess ourselves. And in the midst of our mess, God has a thing for us. He does not despise our humanity or despair over our condition as we sometimes do. He does not turn his face away from us in our failings or our self-centeredness … .He is not surprised. He is aware that we are but dust … and he has made arrangements for us to not stay that way.

Let me say this truth again: you are loved. Deeply. Profoundly. Unimaginably loved. And you are a wondrous creature.

 Becoming Myself, page 20-21

 I guess I need that reminder on occasion. Well, maybe more than occasionally.  More like every day. So I’m excited to embark on this journey and see if the destination is a me more beautiful than I can imagine.